". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Speaking of The Scarlet Letter

As my children and I have been reading this novel together, I wonder how I ever managed to teach it in a public school setting. It's all about sin and guilt and repentance and redemption. It is clear to my children that what Hester needs is the Gospel. We weep for her because she is so obviously repentant, and yet no one has told her that she is forgiven. She is weighed down by guilt, shunned by her neighbors who are every bit as sinful as she. She is being punished in a left-hand kingdom manner for a right-hand kingdom act. And yet when I taught this novel in the past, I could not have addressed any of these points with my students. How in the world did I do it? I have no clue.

Lazy Blogging

I have had very little time these days for any serious musing, reflecting or writing--thus the series of easy posts (videos, literary excerpts, and such). Here's another. Every parent out there will read this and know exactly how Hester Prynne feels. To set the scene: Hester is an adulteress in Puritan New England. Pearl, her daughter, is the result of the adulterous relationship. Town authorities are worried about Pearl's physical and spiritual well-being, being raised as she is by a stained woman. As a result they are considering removing Pearl from her mother's care. They proceed to question Pearl to ascertain how effectively she is being catechized into the faith. Meanwhile, Hester stands by, no doubt holding her breath and praying fervently for her little girl's cooperation:

"Pearl," said he [Rev. Wilson], with great solemnity, "thou must take heed to instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear in thy bosom the pearl of great price. Canst thou tell me, my child, who made thee?"

Now Pearl knew well enough who made her, for Hester Prynne, the daughter of a pious home, very soon after her talk with the child about her Heavenly Father, had begun to inform her of those truths which the human spirit, at whatever stage of immaturity, imbibes with such eager interest. Pearl, therefore, so large were the attainments of her three years' lifetime, could have borne a faint examination in the New England Primer, or the first column of the Westminster Catechism, although unacquainted with the outward form of either of those celebrated works.* But that perversity which all children have more or less of, and of which little Pearl had a tenfold portion, now, at the most inopportune moment, took thorough possession of her, and closed her lips, or impelled her to speak words amiss. After putting her finger in her mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson's question, the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses, that grew by the prison-door.

from The Scarlet Letter, chapter 8, "The Elf-Child and the Minister," by Nathaniel Hawthorne

It's one of those groan-inducing moments, the kind that makes a parent look unbelievingly at his or her child and wonder, "Is this really my kid? The one that thirty minutes ago I found so completely enchanting and delightful? How could that adorable little angel have so quickly turned into the naughty little devil I see before me?"

It's also one of those moments when you realize your powerlessness as a parent. You raise them up the best you can, but there are times they're gonna do what they're gonna do and your only recourse is to stand by, watch and pray.

*Some of my relaxed/unschooly teach-at-home friends will particularly appreciate this sentence.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Ten Commandments

Brought to you by Evan. ☺(He was reading off the list in his room, but he has all but the 10th memorized.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Give Yourself What You Need"

Some of my friends and loved ones have been going through tough times. This song is for them. I know it's just a song, a simple one at that, but it's one of my all-time favorites. When I put it on I can't help but tap my toe and sing along. This video is from a concert in Japan in the nineties, so the Earth, Wind and Fire guys are a little older than when they first sang it in the seventies, but they were still singing and dancing up a storm.

The lyrics are a little hard to understand--this song is not so much about the words as about the feeling--so for the puzzled I've posted them below the video. Listen and enjoy! (And sing along!)

When you feel down and out
Sing a song, it'll make your day
You need a li'l time to shout it out
Sing a song, it'll make your way
Sometimes it's hard to care
Sing a song, it'll make your day
A smile's so hard to bear
Sing a song, it'll make a way


It'll bring your heart to believing
Sing a song, it'll make your day
Life ain't about no retrieving
Sing a song, it'll make your way
Give yourself what you need
Sing a song, it'll make your day
Smile, smile smile and believe
Sing a song, it'll make your way


Sunday, January 17, 2010

The PC Generation

Background: My 14-year-old daughter is taking Tae Kwon Do. She is an orange belt now and a few days ago informed me that she needed a 18" long, 1" diameter stick for class. I went on a stick search yesterday morning but was only able to find 36" long dowels at the two hardware stores in my neighborhood. No problem, we have a saw.

Anyway, back to our story.

The scene: In the car, driving home from Tae Kwon Do.

Me: "How was class?"

Caitlin, eyes shining as she bounces cheerfully around the back seat, energized from the physical activity: "Great!"

Me: "So what do you use the stick for, anyway?"

Caitlin, after the slightest of pauses, probably wondering if she heard me right: "Um . . . for hitting."

Talk about a "duh" moment. I don't know what I was thinking. Twirling? Limbo? Marching band?

Me: "Oh. Yes. Hitting. Of course."

I'm glad my kid has not been ruined by political correctness, even though I have clearly been seriously corrupted by it. Here's to the next generation. Go get 'em, Caitlin!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

From the Pen of Mr. Hawthorne

As part of our study of American literature this year, I am having my two older children (14 & 17) read Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Because it is not an easy book to read, I decided we would do it together. It makes for an interesting readaloud, as it is light on action and dialogue and heavy on description and reflection. Almost every detail is infused with symbolic import. And Mr. Hawthorne does not seem to trust that his reader will readily get the symbolism so highlights it repeatedly. Every sway of the trees, darkening of the sky and shape of a cloud has significance, as the drama playing out in the lives of the main characters radiates far beyond their little world, the microcosm of human action reflected in the macrocosm of the natural world with such force as to make Mr. Shakespeare himself nod approval.

All of this makes for a rather verbose style, one that is not my cup of tea. Yet my memory of reading the book quite a few years ago is a positive one. I enjoyed it then and I am enjoying it now. I think the reading aloud is actually allowing for more appreciation of Mr. Hawthorne's ability to turn a phrase. He does have a way with words that goes right to the heart of human behavior, as some choice quotes from our reading so far will attest.

Consider, for example, this comment on Hester Prynne's visits to the homes of village women for whom she is working as a seamstress. I would wager that my female readers will recognize the "alchemy of quiet malice" described.

"Dames of elevated rank, likewise, whose doors she entered in the way of her occupation, were accustomed to distill drops of bitterness into her heart; sometimes through that alchemy of quiet malice, by which women can concoct a subtile poison from ordinary trifles; and sometimes, also, by a coarser expression, that fell upon the sufferer's defenceless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated wound."

Or how about this passage, on parenthood:

"Mindful, however, of her own errors and misfortunes, she early sought to impose a tender, but strict, control over the infant immortality that was committed to her charge. But the task was beyond her skill. After testing both smiles and frowns, and proving that neither mode of treatment possessed any calculable influence, Hester was ultimately compelled to stand aside, and permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses. Physical compulsion or restraint was effectual, of course, while it lasted. As to any other kind of discipline, whether addressed to her mind or heart, little Pearl might or might now be within its reach, in accordance with the caprice that ruled the moment. Her mother, while Pearl was yet an infant, grew acquainted with a certain peculiar look, that warned her when it would be labor thrown away to insist, persuade, or plead. It was a look so intelligent, yet inexplicable, so perverse, sometimes so malicious, but generally accompanied by a wild flow of spirits, that Hester could not help questioning, at such moments, whether Pearl was a human child."

I bet many of my readers who are parents can relate to that "look" and the wondering about the humanness of one's offspring!

And then, there's this, which will no doubt resonate with anyone who has ever tiptoed away from a sleeping child:

"Her only real comfort was when the child lay in the placidity of sleep. Then she was sure of her, and tasted hours of quiet, sad, delicious happiness; until--perhaps with the perverse expression glimmering from beneath her opening lids--little Pearl awoke!"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If you belong to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod . . .

. . . I suggest taking some time to become familiar with Cross Focused Leadership for Missouri. I know the people behind it and they're a good bunch. Please consider becoming a regular reader and supporter of this worthwhile enterprise.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

So Many Thoughts, So Little Time

They're in there--my mind, that is--several good ideas I would like to explore. But right now there's just not time to hash them out. My mom took a tumble yesterday and is in the hospital with a fractured pelvis. Not a good thing when you're almost 80 years old and suffering from osteoporosis.

And wouldn't you know it, the world doesn't stop because my mom is in the hospital. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD, ANYWAY?

So the posts will have to wait. In the meantime, just follow the bouncing blog . . . .

Friday, January 8, 2010

More Commandments

Speaking of Evan and his commandments, here are the latest entries:

You should not eat anything sweet before lunch or dinner.

Little kids should not drink wine.

You should not feed popcorn to your dog.

You shall not make a bad mess in your room or tip over all your toys or throw all your books on the floor or not sleep or break a shield or throw a sword or punch the TV or computer or kick your brother or sister or mother or father. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not be bad.

(He was pleased that this one was longer than the Tenth Commandment. I think that was the whole point.)

And last but not least, . . .

You should not break any of the commandments.

I love that he is embracing the Ten Commandments to the point that he wants to make up more. (We have, of course, talked about the difference between God's commandments and his.) But I'm starting to hope we are almost through this commandment-writing phase. I'm drowning in the Law over here. And my hand is getting tired of all the writing.

Mutability and Loss

A few days ago while driving in the car with the children I happened to mention that it was almost time to take down the Christmas tree. Evan immediately panicked and started to sob. He wanted to know why? Why can't we just keep it? I went over all the reasons: it's a real tree and it's starting to dry out; Christmas is over/it's Epiphany now and soon it will be Lent; if we left the tree up all year long it would cease to be special and we wouldn't get to look forward to decorating it again next season; etc. He listend and seemed to process the logic but the sadness remained.

Then last night at dinner as we were going over the family calendar for the next few days and he figured out that his dad would be leaving town and I would be shuttling his brother back and forth to a chess tournament, he had another melt down. Both of these things--Dad going on short overnight trips and Mom chauffeuring older siblings--are common occurences. I explained that I was not leaving town but would just have to make some short trips to drop off and pick up his brother and that he could even ride along if he wanted (usually he is content to stay home). That seemed to help but he still cried excessively over his father having to leave town, exclaiming "I'll miss you so much!"

Why the unusually emotional reactions to these things that he has experienced before? As I think about it, it makes abundant sense. With the death of his grandfather and his grandmother, this child has sustained heavy doses of loss and change this year and has reached the limit of his tolerance for both. It's kind of like a stressed out mother at the end of her wits for the day. One more broken dish, one more spill, one more argument between siblings is just one too many. Right now Evan is just needing life to stay the same.

I wish I could provide that for him, but I can't. Such is a parent's regret. :-(

I wonder if Evan's intense embracing of the concept of commandments these days is at all related to his fear of change? Laws don't change, do they?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Joy of the Law

My 6-year-old has been learning the Ten Commandments. We had hoped to finish them before Christmas but fell short. Yesterday we finally got to the Tenth. When Evan realized I was getting ready to write it on the facsimile "tablets" I made to hang on the wall of his bedroom, he was overcome with joy and excitement and ran up to his bedroom and immediately began reading loudly through the first nine (which he does, by the way, have memorized, something I didn't do until I was an adult). After I wrote the tenth one down and we said it together, he turned to me and, beaming, said, "It's really long, isn't it?"

Evan gets it. God's Law is not a burden to those whom Christ has redeemed, but a joy and a delight. Evan is a baptized child of God and as such he desires and clings to that Law.

In fact, he is enjoying the Commandments so much that last night he started making up some of his own. We got all the way to thirty last night before I put an end to it: "Evan, Mommy's tired and wants to go to bed. We can do some more commandments tomorrow." He calls them his "House" Commandments and sings them, not speaks them, using tunes from his dad's catechism songs.

Here's a sampling:

You should not leave the television on when you are done watching it.

You should not open the shower door and talk to your mother or father or sister or brother when they are taking a shower.

You should not slam doors or knock things over.

Little children should not look at scary pictures or watch scary movies.

You should not beat up your dog.

Children should not take walks by themselves.

You should not start a fire.

Don't punch someone in the nose.

There were many more, but that's all I can remember now. It's not a bad list, is it?

Monday, January 4, 2010

World Team Chess

The World Team Chess Championship begins tomorrow in Bursa, Turkey. It will continue through January 14. You can cheer on the U.S. team (which includes my son's teacher GM Yury Shulman) and follow the tournament's progress at the United States Chess Federation website. Go Team U.S.A.!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"The Gate of the Year"

By Minnie Louise Haskins

Original Title: "God Knows"

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still!
What need our little life,
Our human life, to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Plates for a New Year!

We have been needing new everyday dinnerware for a long time. This is our old set.

I bought it from Fingerhut almost 23 years ago, right after my husband and I got married. In those days you could purchase from Fingerhut and pay over time with a coupon booklet they provided. I haven't bought anything from them in years, but now it appears you must get their credit card to get the time payment option.

The set has lasted well but is showing its age. We still have all eight of the dinner plates. Only two of the salad plates are left. I think we may have all the bowls. We have all or most of the saucers but only one of the little teacups. We never used those for tea or coffee. Too small. Instead they were used like little dessert bowls for ice cream and such. But they were so delicate that they broke easily. They didn't need to be dropped. Just being put in the sink with a bunch of other dishes was sometimes enough to break off those little handles.

This set was also not microwaveable. Of course, that didn't mean we didn't do so occasionally for short bursts. But the silver trim meant sometimes little sparks would fly off the plates when we microwaved them too long.

So, back to the point of the blog post. I have been longing for new dishes for quite some time and have had a picture in my head of what I wanted. Instead of the blue color scheme, I wanted to go bright--green, gold, orange, burgundy--maybe something in a Venetian/Italian motif with fruits or vegetables. Several times over the past few years I have seen a set I liked, once at JC Penney and once at Wal-Mart. But the funds weren't available and eventually the dishes weren't either.

Imagine my surprise on Christmas morning when I opened a huge, heavy box from my son to discover a new set of dishes! They were very nice, but it turns out they had that same sort of silver rim so were not microwaveable. They were also plain white and quite elegant, and I had envisioned something a little heavier and with some color. My dear son was very understanding and gave permission for me to return his set and look for something else.

I spent several days looking online and finally found this treasure: a discontinued set from Gibson called "Royal Rooster." I had to buy the dishes from one store and the completer set from another. Both were clearance priced. Turns out at one time there was matching glassware for the set, but it is nowhere to be found, not even at Replacements.com. Guess I'm not the only one who drops glasses.

Isn't it a lovely pattern? And my husband likes it too, I think because it matches this guy on top of our refrigerator (a gift to him several years ago from his secretary, a.k.a. known as Pastor's wife and Evan's godmother).

Of course, now I have all sorts of kitchen decorating ideas to complete the look. Some new paint, maybe a little rooster border or stenciling, some new kitchen towels . . . Cock-a-doodle-doo!